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NLGN - Councils must embrace smart technology today to plan for the problems of tomorrow

Councils must become more creative in their use of technology and more collaborative with both their citizens and other organisations, in order to plan for future problems, according to a report published yesterday by NLGN.

The report Tomorrow’s Places, carried out in association with ENGIE, found that currently, the time and expertise needed is not always present within councils to make the most of the new capabilities that technology can bring.

Abigail Gilbert, researcher at NLGN said:

“As social innovation has met technological innovation, the ‘smart cities’ market has changed. Technologies such as blockchain, sensors, apps and drones have the potential to go beyond glamour and efficiency rationales for new technology, and allow for genuinely radical outcomes: empowering service users, making them more independent; opening up decision making to make it more democratic; and building more connected communities, to reduce isolation.

“Councils can be in the driving seat, ensuring these benefits are delivered through their collaboration and commissioning practices.”

With the sector likely to face an overall £5.8 billion funding gap by 20201, it is easy for councils to focus on immediate problems, but investment and planning is needed now to reduce demand and better predict and prevent problems. To do this, councils should be supporting the delivery of networked infrastructure, data analytics and public Wifi.

The research also recommended several ways councils could use data and technology more effectively:

  • Councils should create a much more open platform for data sharing between councils, the private sector and third sector, to enable partnerships and collaborations to be more easily identified.
  • Councils should work towards the greater personalisation of data ownership in contracts, allowing individuals to have control of what information they create and can share.
  • Hackathons should be used to generate ideas and explore where new data relationships could be beneficial.
  • Councils should engage with peer networks which allow them to share stories of best practice, but also of failures and mistakes

Wilfrid Petrie, CEO of ENGIE in the UK & Ireland, said:

“This report provides valuable insight into the ability of smart, technology-led solutions combined with cross sector working to allow local authorities to optimise their resources and deliver services more efficiently. Adopting such a collaborative approach will assist in the delivery of place-led service provision, meeting both today’s needs and tomorrow’s challenges whilst also strengthening the link between people and their communities.”

The research also found several ways that government could help to support councils in this.

  • It should create a legal framework to ensure that the development of smart markets is not constrained by closed approaches.
  • Government should ensure that all legislation on data, including the General Data Protection Regulation and Digital Economy Bill, is consistent and removes conflicts that could stifle progress in data sharing.


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